There’s an old man sitting next to me. He’s thin and wiry. His hair is white, yet he has a boyish face. He wears a red shirt, blue pants, and a white sailor’s cap; he’s dressed like this every day, like he’s trying to hold on to something from his past. He has to be the clumsiest person in the bar, always knocking over things and spilling his drinks.
He says, “Can you play me a song? I can’t remember how it goes, but it’s sad and it’s sweet and I used to know it perfectly when I was younger…”
I know just the song that he’s talking about and I start to play. We go through this ritual every Saturday; the old man’s a bit senile. He can never remember the song’s name anymore. Come to think of it, the song really isn’t that sad, to me, at least.
For a few minutes the man is lost in the song; he closes his eyes and smiles, like he’s remembering his past.
“I wish we were back on that island,” he says. I’m never sure what he means by this, but he says it every time. He looks so sad that sometimes I wish I could grant him that wish.
Now Ginger is the bartender; she always gets me my drinks for free. She’s really friendly, especially with the men. She always lights their cigarettes for them and tells them jokes. But when the men aren’t paying attention to her, she drops the mask. She doesn’t really want to be here.
She’ll shout, “I just can’t take it anymore! If I could just get out of here…if I could just go back to Hollywood…I’d be famous again! I should be Ginger Grant, famous movie star, not Ginger Grant, bartender…”
Now the Professor is a novelist; or, well, at least that’s what he says it is. He used to be a teacher at some high school somewhere…everybody thinks that he’s gone crazy. It seems he disappeared for a while and when he came back he kept talking about headhunters and strange things…he got his old job back for a month or two but was quickly fired. That’s when he started coming here. He says that he’s working on a memoir of his life, but I don’t see how he could be when he’s always at the bar.
I can see the Professor talking with a man that everybody refers to as the Skipper. He’s a sailor in the Navy; he probably will be ‘til the day he dies. He acts like a sailor, swearing and getting into bar fights, but he really is a big teddy bear on the inside. Sometimes I think he has a special connection to the man sitting next to me, or at least he used to. Now I just see them sadly steal glances at each other, as if remembering the past.
Over in the corner, the waitress, Mary Ann, is practicing politics. She used to be a farm girl, but you wouldn’t know it from just looking at her. I’m not entirely sure what happened; she might have been to one too many political rallies in the city or something, but now she thinks that she can be a politician. I don’t bother arguing with her; she’s a bit delusional. I think it might be because she was in love with a man years ago and lost him somehow…
I look around. There’s a good amount of people here for a Saturday. The manager and his wife come out into the bar. I’m not sure why he bought the place; everyone knows that he’s a millionaire. Thurston Howell III doesn’t need a lowly old bar. Compared to all the other companies he owns, this place gives him no more money than a road-side stand would. But Mr. Howell seems to love this place, and even Mrs. Howell has warmed up to it.
Mr. Howell smiles and nods at me; he knows that I’m the reason that most of these people come to the bar.
As I finish the last few lines of the song, the man next to me sings along.
“No phone, no lights, no motor cars, not a single luxury. Like Robinson Crusoe, it’s primitive as can be…” Tears come to his eyes and he’s unable to finish.
“Why did we have to be rescued?” he wails, “Why did that stupid boat have to come?”
My heart goes out to him; something went wrong in his life and he’s lost all of his friends and family. Maybe all of these people were his friends and family. They all seem to share a connection of some sort, or at least they used to. But not anymore.
The man next to me cries quietly. I wish I could fix everything for him, but alas, I’m just the piano man.